Balancing Being a Knowledge Nanny with a Know-It-All

Being a nanny gives you a lot of great insight into parenting. In my 22 years on the job, I’ve seen all kinds of parents and approaches. Sometimes as I watched moms and dads in action I’d think, “Wow, I’d hope if I were a parent I could do it as well.” Other times I’d think, “Really? Can’t you see what you’re doing is only going to give you the exact behavior you’re trying to avoid?” Those opposite reactions, from being awed to being annoyed, often happened with the same parent and sometimes moments apart. Thankfully as I got older and (hopefully) wiser, I was able to reframe the annoying moments by approaching them with genuine curiosity rather than simply accepting my knee-jerk judgment. I came to understand that while the cause and effect factor seemed like a no brainer to me, it’s clearly was a huge struggle for the parent. And who am I to judge anyone else’s struggle? (Anytime I have a hard time moving into that kinder, gentler place, I think of all the people who look at me and think, “Really? Eat less, exercise more. It’s not that hard.” Because actually it IS hard.)

Now that doesn’t mean today I think anything goes. I still have very definite ideas about raising children; I strongly believe that some methods are better than others and that some tools are more effective than others. My first thought when I see a parent giving in or giving up is still often “Yeah, that’s not gonna work.” Because let’s be honest, as nannies we’re paid to have an understanding of children and what makes them tick. But now, unlike in my early years, my second thought is “What don’t I know about this situation, this parent, this child?” And if I can’t immediately get into that “judge not lest ye be judged” place I strive for, I think of all the things I know on an intellectual level but haven’t been able to fully incorporate into my life. Yeah, that gets me there.

Changing the way I reacted to parents not only changed my stress level on the job, it allowed me to work with parents in a new way. I went from suffering in silence as parents made “bad” choices to sharing my ideas in a supportive, collaborative way. I moved from observer to team player. I stopped being a casual caregiver and started being a childcare professional. Changing the way I viewed parents in their role changed the way I took on my role.

I’ve been thinking about this today because of an article I read from Nicola Kraus, the nanny who co-wrote The Nanny Diaries. In this article, My Message To Dr. Sears, she gives her opinion on attachment parenting. She says that parents who follow that approach are masochist and are trying to heal all their psychic wounds and soothe all their lifelong unmet needs through this parenting approach. She’s not alone in thinking that. I’ve heard other nannies express the same viewpoint although never this publicly or this bluntly.

The tough part for me in reading this article is that I agree with a lot of what she says. I think too many parents latch onto the idea of attachment parenting without thinking it through. They like the idea of bonding to their infant in a very primal way but they don’t realize that with attachment parenting, it’s in for a penny, in for a pound. If you want to be able to get out of the house childless for big chunks of the day, you can’t nurse your baby every single feeding because chances are no one else will be able to feed her. If you want to have sex in your own bed in the near (or distant) future, you can’t co-sleep because chances are your kid’s not going to sleep anywhere else for a very long time.

So while I agree with many of the ideas in the article, I whole-heartedly disagree with the idea that just because she was a nanny she knows how to do it best. Or that by its very nature, Attachment Parenting is a bad thing. Or that any of us have the right to label a mother who’s doing what she feels is best for her child as a masochist or to imply their mother-child dynamic is unhealthy.

This article clearly reminds me that as nannies, we walk a fine line between being helpful and being hurtful. Between sharing what we know in the spirit of helping parents do a better job and making parents feel stupid about their parenting choices to jolt them over to our way of thinking. How well we walk that line usually depends on our ability to let go of our knee-jerk reactions and to speak and act from a kinder, gentler place. It’s can be a struggle, especially around issues we feel strongly about, but it’s part of that professionalism we’re always talking about.

Ms. Kraus talks about her parenting approach to “prove” how easy it all can be done. She says, “I nursed her (daughter) often and for hours, but I always put her to bed awake in her own room, and by 6 weeks, she was sleeping through the night. By 12 weeks, she was sleeping twelve hours.” As a former nanny, Ms. Kraus should know that has a lot more to do with her daughter’s temperament than her “expert” approach. There are plenty of moms out there who follow the same routine and have children who struggle with sleeping through the night. My nanny experience tells me that first-time moms who get cocky about how easy it all is usually have a second child that proves them wrong. Opps, there’s that annoyance with a parent kicking in.